The Third Third

Abuse in the Church of the Faith and the Faithful

Life changes when the doctor says you can’t drive for two weeks.  The pace, your priorities, the way you spend your time.  A husband learns to use the post office and the debit card.  You learn (or I am learning) how to wrestle with Quiet.  In Quiet, Input begins to overwhelm Output; you can read for hours. And then think about it. You can’t really *do* anything; you are supposed to rest, and recover.  It is not a good thing, it turns out, for the Pope or the Catholic Church or the Keepers and Defenders of the One True Faith that Holy Week was one of the two weeks I was not allowed to drive.  I have had a lot of time to read and think.  I have tried to have a cerebral, rational, measured response to the church’s pedophilia crisis, but – excuse me as I rush to the toilet – it makes me throw up.  I’m serious.  *(She beckons to her nurse husband: A little soda water please.)* According to others, [Maureen Dowd][1] of the *New York Times *and  [Lisa Mille][2]r in *Newsweek* among them, the issue is about all those men and the kind of men attracted to today's priesthood, their pre-Enlightenment organization and management style, the absence of women, and historical precedents.  At the heart of it for me is the abuse.  Not merely the sexual abuse of vulnerable innocents whose souls, if they survived at all, are deeply, tragically scarred -- but the abuse of position, power, faith, and trust that obviously endures, permeating every corridor at every level of the institution, to this day.  Such arrogance.  (That’s the human term.)  Such heresy.  (That’s the religious.) Such sin.  (That’s both.) I’ve had time this week to question the visceral nature of my response, to ask what’s at stake, really, when (1) I am not a Roman Catholic and (2) I have never been very taken with the idea of a pope in general or this one, Benedict, in particular.  What’s it to me if the Roman See goes off again?  We don’t exactly see eye-to-eye anyway. But (according to therapists I have known and loved), when you have the kind of over-reaction I am having, something more than the obvious is usually at stake. And what appears to be at stake as the current crisis unfolds is my ongoing effort to discern and deepen my faith.  These sanctimonious old white guys in their collars and their robes who hold themselves above us all as well as above it all, are getting in my way.  Big time.  Not that church history does not hold plenty of difficult stories of man run amok in the name of God (in the name, indeed, of what I used to think of as *my* God); but that was then and this is now and somehow, foolishly, but truly, I expected things to be different. That they are not, that these guys, even as they claim to be the representatives of Jesus Christ on earth (could they have the words humility and hubris confused?) act so un<-Christ-like in the face of the same kinds of brokenness He (Christ) is said to have come to heal centuries ago, is beyond troubling. 

It causes me to wonder:  What have I been thinking, all these years?  Why have I allowed myself to be led, not by the so-called Good Shepherd, but like a lamb to slaughter, by terribly mortal men, across the ages, across the denominations, into a belief system that on so many fronts serves the same corrupt, unjust power structure many theologians believe Jesus preached against?  Why haven’t they gotten it right yet?  Why have I given them so much time, so much benefit of the doubt, so much grace, if you will – as if the chanting and incense of the High Holy Days caused me to take leave of my senses over and over and over again and to ignore wars and crusades and scandals and political expediency, sexism, homophobia,  and missions to the poor that kept the poor poor all in the name of faith?  As I said before, What was I thinking? 

I kept going back for more.  I seem to have needed something I was in fact getting from my faith in spite of all the inconsistencies and human failures. What was it?  And – what I find myself asking now in the face of this most recent, extraordinary abuse – do I still need it, can I still get it, and does what I call my faith have any meaning at all anymore for me and for the world I live in?   That’s really what’s at stake here.

I step back.  Would I really let a bunch of pedophiles and the systemic perversion of their handling within the church a generation ago and again today wrest my faith away from me?  

If I am, indeed, seeking, and this is what I “see,” is it any more or less valid than a “God thing,” as my friend calls it, when I feel at-one with the spirit, when I know Peace, when I feel God walking with me, as at the miraculous birth of a child, or even when I know what to say to a friend in deep, personal pain? 

Do priests’ sins and other priests’ arrogance diminish the healing acts of love I have known and shared?  Do I let them destroy my hope that Life is, on balance – or can be – Good?  Does their evil defeat every other effort to be whole and creative, loving and caring human beings? 

I cannot serve the same church (Big C or little c, Catholic/catholic or Church/church, it doesn’t matter) these guys do anymore than I could serve a church of radical Islamist terrorists.   That’s not the hard choice, really; it’s quite easy (though not, I am sure, for men and women baptized, confirmed, married, and educated by the church, who have believed themselves to be part of its vast holy body).  But whom I serve, and how I serve, and what I serve going forward, eyes wider open than ever before, is the question that stumps me now.  I am encouraged by other doubters and seekers, other women angry with the church for duping them, mad at themselves for being duped and still, yet, intent on being caring and loving and in relationship with others and with an increasingly amorphous, but still deeply needed God/Spirit/Supreme Being/Essence of Hope and Goodness. In a random email I considered a gift this week, one of them suggested this thought from Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century:  “. . .the Christian theological task is to continue to seek confirmation and understanding of the faith that is already in us.”

That helps, actually.  Maybe I’m not such a fool.  The faith is in me, simply there; I just need new ways to perceive and sustain it against all mortal and institutional efforts to tarnish and abuse it.

[1]: [2]: http://(
comments powered by Disqus